Franck Montagny maintained Peugeot's superiority at the start in vaulting into the lead, and underlining the 908 HDi's devastating raw pace in completing an opening lap on full fuel tanks and cool tyres that would have been good enough for tenth on the grid in qualifying.

The Frenchman was tracked closely by team-mate Pedro Lamy in the #7 machine, with the Portuguese making short work of reliving Allan McNish of second place, leaving the lead Audi to spoil the perfect Peugeot symmetry in third ahead of Alex Wurz and Jean-Christophe Boullion, but the former would waste little time in breezing past along the Mulsanne Straight on lap two to make it a commanding one-two-three.

There was further misery for defending race-winners Audi when Alex Premat in the #3 machine encountered a problem and shot off track and into the gravel trap at Indianapolis, possibly a repeat of the sticking throttle that 'Mr Le Mans' Tom Kristensen had suffered in the morning warm-up. Though outwardly relatively undamaged, the third of the Ingolstadt manufacturer's challengers was forced to return to the pits barely ten minutes in...

Other cars in the wars were the GT1 class Jetalliance Racing Aston Martin with electrical issues, GT2 contender Drayson Racing Aston of Jonny Cocker with a puncture, the Team LNT Ginetta and the LMP2 KSM Lola, which was forced to pit twice inside the first 15 minutes with myriad woes. The Christijan Albers Kolles Audi similarly lost time with a confused pit-stop for a new nose to be fitted to his R10 TDi. The GT1 JLOC Lamborghini Murcielago, meanwhile, became the race's first retirement following a troubled weekend

With the first half hour completed, behind the Peugeot one-two-three at the front, McNish is still holding onto fourth in the top Audi, ahead of Boullion in the Pescarolo-Peugeot. The second Audi of Mike 'Rocky' Rockenfeller sits sixth, with the two Aston Martin Racing machines of Stefan Mucke and Darren Turner, the Speedy Racing Sebah Aston of Andrea Belicchi and the first 'regular' Pesca of Christophe Tinseau.

Emmanuel Collard leads the LMP2 class for Team Essex, with a Corvette one-two-three-four in GT1 and a combative Jaime Melo driving the Risi Competizione Ferrari to the front of the GT2 order.